The full story of how I met my wife is a story best left for another time. For now, let’s just say that finally having a girlfriend made me very happy. And gave me a perfect excuse for why I wasn’t doing all the other things I wanted to be doing. I had obligations, you see.
My girlfriend sympathized with my angsty feelings about Catholicism. She herself was a recovering Baptist. Being a Baptist (or Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc. etc.) was different from being a Catholic, she told me. Baptists had just one rule: believe in Jesus and you’ll go to Heaven.
This was patently absurd, I explained to her. I can kill someone and get to Heaven because I believe in Jesus? It didn’t seem fair.
Well, yes, you can, she explained to me. But if you REALLY believed in Jesus, you wouldn’t want to kill anyone. All of this was in the Bible, you see.
Ah, the Bible! THAT’S where it fits.
Now here’s where it gets murky for me. Somehow I went to believing this was ridiculous to believing it myself. I’m not sure how it happened, only that it did happen. And on May 11, 2001, two weeks before I got married, I became a Real Christian.
I can hear the skeptics smirking (a skeptic’s smirk is so intense that it can actually be heard). I became a Real Christian two weeks before I got married to my wife, who’s also a Real Christian? Who comes from a family of Real Christians (who sympathized with my feelings toward Catholicism, but were quite disappointed that I didn’t share their beliefs). That’s certainly convenient.
But it was sincere! I don’t have it in me to pretend to believe in something. Too much effort, I suppose.
Being a Real Christian was tremendously freeing. No more worrying about going to hell. I believed in Jesus, so that, as they say, was that. And, since I wasn’t required to go to Church, I wasn’t going to go!
My wife was perfectly fine with this arrangement. You see, she was a Real Christian too, but she didn’t care for going to church. Her father is a pastor, and growing up in that environment had turned her off to going to church. So, we got to spend eternity together, and also got to sleep in on Sunday mornings. Who could ask for more?
But then I started to feel guilty about not going. No worries - my wife had explained to me about this. I was Being Convicted. For the uninitiated, most Protestants believe when one becomes a Real Christian, the Holy Spirit (Catholics will know this character from the Sign Of The Cross) takes up residence inside of you. Somewhere above the stomach and below the cockles of the heart, I think. And, if you start doing something God doesn’t approve of, the Holy Spirit makes you feel bad about it. In a good way, of course.
This time, the solution was much easier - I didn’t have to stop doing something I enjoyed doing, I just had to start doing something I didn’t enjoy doing. And this time I could pick where I wanted to do it! So I started Church Shopping, and my wife continued sleeping in.
I visited a few churches. Then one day, I visited a Protestant church belonging to a denomination called the United Church Of Christ. And a shudder passes over the conservative members of my audience.
Unbeknownst to me, this denomination had a reputation for being Liberal. But their beliefs seemed to jive with me, so I continued going without my better half.
“How was church?” my wife asked with a yawn the first time I returned. “What did the pastor talk about?”
“Oh, she talked about---”
You see, in the Baptist churches my wife attended as a child, women were not allowed to be preachers.
“But wait! Don’t Protestants have just one rule? Believe in Jesus and go to Heaven?”
Well, yes, silly goose. They have only one rule for getting to Heaven. There are, however, many other rules, which, while not required for salvation, are considered to be what the corporate world would call “best practices”.
My wife went to Church because she was interested in hearing a woman preach. And she kept going. Life was good.
Then I got laid off.